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Please bear with me.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The framers of the US Constitution were so pre-occupied with this new form of government they were establishing, that outside of the preamble, they forgot to include any references to the interplay between government and citizen. So they created the Bill of Rights, a list of 10 general statements limiting the government in the lives of its citizens while at the same time creating certain rights in the citizenry against the government's intrusion.
This post deals with the first two phrases of the First Amendment, or what has been mischaracterized over the years as "the separation clause." There are two parts to the "freedom of religion" clause. The first is the freedom FROM religion clause. This is very simply the prohibition on the government against getting involved in anything related to religion. It is the clause used most often by outfits like the ACLU and others to remove prayer from public ceremony and the Ten Commandment posters from public school class rooms.
The second part is the freedom OF religion. It has been used in many instances to preserve religious practices when they may fly in the face of secular thought. The only clear example that I can think of that the government has stepped in and shut down a religious practice is the outlawing of polygamy, even for Mormons.
Religious freedom is one of the founding principles of our nation. However in our America, religious freedom is under attack. I don't mean the whole prayer in school, ten commandment style attack that right wing religious zealots portray. I am talking about the left wing agnostic zealots who find laughable the concept of a God and a people who worship God.
What is rising in its place are rights that the framers of the Constitution never imagined. Rights like gay rights and reproductive rights. Those touting these reproductive rights are now lined up solidly against religious freedom. Nowhere within the actual language of the US Constitution are the words "reproductive rights" or anything vaguely resembling such a right. In terms of hierarchy of our basic human rights as guaranteed by the Constitution, reproductive rights are far down the line from our right to religious freedom.
In the case before us, the Obama Administration is mandating that certain religions violate their own religious principles. Further, it is demanding that all employees of those religious organization violate the principles of the religion for which they are working. It is a clear case of government violating the very essence of the First Amendment and it has no hope of every passing Constitutional scrutiny.
The employees of religious hospitals, universities and other large institutions are employees through their own will. Neither the government nor the religion is forcing them to work there and its corollary lack of coverage for contraceptive and sterilization measures. There are always alternatives for those who seek to have their birth control paid for by third parties.
Regardless of whether the government and its citizens feel that a religion is morally right or wrong on a subject of religious dogma, the government is not permitted to mandate a religion violate that dogma.